Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Flood

Marie and I look forward to our evening walk with Leche every day.  There isn’t much more to look forward to in the evening other than incessantly refreshing your inbox with the hope that someone sends you something other than spam.  Our path takes us north through a valley cut by a river, which is the same path I usually go running on.  We usually start walking at about 4:30, but we left a little late this time around 5, which leaves us only about 30 minutes of good light before complete darkness. 

It was a beautiful day and there was no sign of bad weather on the horizon as we wound our way through the mountains.  We reached the first river crossing where the water level was normal—you just need to jump on one or two rocks to get across.  The water was clearer than usual at this time of year.  When there is a lot of rain, the water tends to get muddy. 

Leche loves the path.  As soon as we reach it he stops walking and expects to be let off the leash.  After that, he goes to work.  He puts his nose to the ground and finds the best places to leave his mark.  There is one spot on the path where he climbs up a hill and does a superman jump because we always give him praise for his acrobatics.

After we crossed the first river, it started to sprinkle a bit, but we didn’t think anything of it.  Just in case, we decided to go to the next crossing and turn around before getting too wet.  We always hate to cut walks short because Leche doesn’t like being cramped up in the house—after all, he is a street dog at heart. 

Leche had gone ahead to scout some spots to mark and when we came to the second crossing he was already on the other side.  Then, I heard something in the distance like someone was beating a baseball bat against a hollow tree.  I looked to my left and I saw a wall of water ripping down the river overflowing the banks and coming our way.  I stepped back and screamed at Leche to sit still.  At first he thought I was telling him to come so he made a step toward the river, but he too saw the danger coming and backed off. 

I tied my shoes thinking I was going to cross and get Leche, but then I saw exactly what was moving with the water.  There were basketball sized rocks and full grown tree trunks moving right through the water.  If I got hit by one of those I probably wouldn’t make it out of the river.  Wisely, I stayed put.  A family that lives on the other side of the river came out to see what was going on and saw Leche stranded.  The river was deafening and I could barely make communication with the family.  I told them not to let him cross.  I was racking my brain trying to think of a way across, but it just wasn’t possible.  The river was way too high, the current too strong, and there was too much debris. 

The family grabbed Leche by the collar and made a gesture that they would take care of him until the river calmed down.  We decided to check the first river crossing to see if that one was any better.  It was a tough thing to do to let Leche out of our site, but we had to do it.  After a 5 minute walk we reached the first crossing and it was much worse than the second.  The river had risen at least 5 feet.  In this section the river funnels and drops into a lower area.  The water was like a suction taking anything on the sides and slamming it on the rocks below.  This definitely wasn’t an option.

It turned into a waiting game.  What were we going to do?  We were stuck between two rivers in the middle of Honduras.  I had a sort of out of body experience as my breathing started to get heavier and my heart beat out of my chest.  The feeling was one I had read about many times in adventure or wilderness books.  You see yourself from above and ask yourself how the hell you got in the middle of Honduras stranded by a flash flood.  Then it got dark.  Then it started to pour.  Then the feeling got worse. 

When would they figure out that we weren’t home?  We didn’t have a cell phone, flashlight, or a raincoat.  We couldn’t wait here all night.  How could we be so stupid?  Yet, how could we have known?

Finally, after about an hour in the rain, soaked to the bone and tired of shivering we saw a light coming down the path.  A motorcycle came to the river bank and stopped.  A man got off and looked at the river and then looked at us.  He started to turn around to get back on his bike but I got his attention.

“Can you help us?”
“Help?  You have to wait for the river to go down and then cross.”
“Go find Ricardo”
“Ahh nevermind.  We’re fucked.”

The motorcycle pulled away from the river taking all the light we had with us.  It was a waiting game again, but this time it was shorter.  We saw another light, but this one came slower and bounced up and down.  It was a flashlight.  I knew it was Rob.  He knows where we taking Leche on walks and since it was after dark, raining, and getting late, he knew that something was wrong.

“Don’t cross, there are rocks”, I said.
“Yeah. No shit.  If I had a rope I might be able to get you guys across.”
“Call Ricardo.”

Ricardo arrived about 30 minutes later with a crew of guys and some supplies.  He threw us over a flashlight so we could see what we were doing.  The crew of three guys brought ropes and a couple automatic machine guns.  They were narco-traffickers.  Basically, the only able bodied men in town are traffickers.  I was relieved to have their help.

They threw a rope across and I tied it to a thick tree and slung it back.  They tied their end to a sturdy tree up the river a bit.  The three hundred pound narco-trafficker tried to cross without the rope and was swept up in the current like a rag doll.  Luckily, he was able to get back to the shore before dropping down into the rocks.  He tried with the rope this time and it similar fashion was swept into the current, but he held tightly to the rope.  He pulled and inched his way across against the current.  “That’s how you do it”, he boasted a little shaken up.

Marie went first.  He tied another rope around her body and attached it to the rope so she would have a choice but to hold on.  At the halfway point the rope bowed and she didn’t have the momentum to get across.  The big narco trafficker went out to giver her a push, but the other side already threw her a rope to give her more pull to get out of the current.  When she was almost out of the toughest part of the current, a rock ripped into her hip and she let out a yelp.  She was relatively unharmed.

It was my turn.  I put the rope around my body and made my way across.  It was easy until I got into the strongest part and the current pushed my feet out from under me so that I was holding onto the rope with both hands like superman flying on the current.  I was wearing athletic shorts and the current was getting ready to rip them off.  I took one of my arms off the rope to save the shorts.  Without the strength of both hands, I was unable to inch my way to the other side.  I had to make a choice—naked safety or clothed injury.  I chose safety and the pants were ripped off my legs like a vacuum. 

It was all a pretty embarrassing ordeal just to take Leche on a walk through the forest.  Ricardo brought some extra shirts and I wrapped one around the front part of my body like ass-less chaps.  I was just glad to be on the other side. 

There isn’t really some grand moral to the story about water safety or walking in the woods without a cell phone.  I guess the only thing I realized is that no matter how autonomous you think you are, sooner or later we all need help.  I don’t think it ever feels good to need someone in that capacity, but it is nice to have someone willing to help—even if they are narco-traffickers.  I wondered why that 300 pound narco-trafficker was so cavalier with his life and I got my answer from Ricardo the next day.  “The narcos have a different lease on life than we do.  They go through life knowing that at any moment, usually sooner rather than later, they are going to get it.  So they drink hard, they drive fast—they live as much as they can in the short time they’re given.”